Chris Abernathy

Chris Abernathy

As summer comes to a close, hundreds of Idahoans are heading off to college. Students will be feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation and nervousness.There are so many potential obstacles that college students will have to overcome: moving to a new home (sometimes to a different state entirely), more challenging class material, balancing work and school, navigating challenging social situations.

It is extremely overwhelming to be a college student, no matter what your major, school or background. However, by far and away the most difficult obstacle that most students will have to overcome is paying for college.

The newest figures show that the average college student graduates with $29,800 in student loan debt. If a student goes on to get their graduate or law degree, then it becomes even higher.

A student is sometimes able to wait until graduation to start making payments, but those payments will usually be between $200 and $300 every month just a few short months after leaving school. It’s no surprise that just under a quarter of students are behind on their student loan payments, which carries its own financial penalties.

Students leaving college are not usually coming out with thousands of dollars saved. They just spent several years paying for moving costs, housing, the most expensive books they will ever encounter, and a variety of other things that are necessary to get a higher degree. Many of these costs will come out of pocket.

Although it is very difficult to work while getting a degree, it is impossible for many to pay for food and housing without having a full-time job. And most students will not immediately find employment upon graduation. They will need time to search around, do interviews and ultimately get settled into a job before receiving their first paycheck. It’s not as if they have an abundance of money sitting around for these massive monthly payments.

Idaho students deserve better. We are encouraging our students to be more educated for the jobs of the future and then setting them up to fail after graduation. We cannot expect a newly graduated student to come up with almost $30,000 to pay for tuition on top of all the other costs that are associated with this massive transition.

Idaho’s higher education institutions have struggled to keep tuition costs low because the Idaho Legislature refuses to make meaningful investments in lowering costs to students. Our schools are left with a difficult choice — they have to increase tuition to keep the lights on. Legislators complain that college is becoming increasingly inaccessible but consistently vote against giving resources to Idaho’s universities.

When Idahoans are heading off to college, insurmountable debt should be the last thing on their mind. They should be focused on how they are going to succeed in their classes so that they can become part of a thriving economy. Instead, students must fear the financial position they are going to be in after graduation and face the fact that their government is not willing to help them.

Idahoans value security for their families and a thriving economy where everyone can succeed in their field. Unfortunately, we are creating overwhelming and often unbeatable obstacles for many Idaho students. As a Legislature, we have a responsibility to point Idahoans in the right direction and make it possible for them to achieve prosperity.

Instead, we are turning a blind eye to the financial hardships that will bankrupt many of our students. It’s time for the Legislature to stop pointing fingers at students, universities, or certain programs and step up to the plate. Our students need the support of their Legislature when they are heading off to college. Finances and debt should be the least of their worries.

This column was submitted by state Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello.